It was a blatant scam from the start. Five beautiful, seductively attired women preaching a “feminist” message of “Girl Power” through their empty, sometimes confusing pop songs about boys (but never politics) that nonetheless found a very receptive global audience. Thankfully, it didn’t last.
If the fraud of The Spice Girls wasn’t already detected in their inescapable music at the height of their fame in the late 1990s, it became undeniably exposed in one movie.
Spice World, also the name of their second record, was supposed to be their Hard Day’s Night. (Stop laughing.) Released in January 1998, the passage of time has not been kind to this deadly dull cinematic infomerical. Watching very talented actors constantly pretend that this standard pop act is an incredibly big deal 15 years after the fact is more than a little embarrassing. In fact, it’s downright tragic.
The movie follows Emma (the blonde one), Victoria (the posh one), Geri (the vivacious one), Mel B (the black one) and Mel C (the athletic one) through their absolutely boring day-to-day adventures as pop stars of the moment, a moment that thankfully ended just a couple years after this dreadful movie’s mercifully brief theatrical release.
When they’re not flying to one-off TV gigs in Italy, they’re riding around England in an admittedly cool, Union Jacked double decker bus driven by Meat Loaf (I’m not kidding) rehearsing, touring and promoting with little time off, much to their annoyance (even though their job, as depicted in this movie, hardly looks taxing).
Richard E. Grant plays their stodgy road manager, the uptight keeper of their ever important schedule who every once in a while takes bizarre calls from the group’s real boss, a mysterious all-knowing Svengali (Roger Moore of all people). While stroking a cat or nursing a pig in an undisclosed location (channeling Dr. Evil, perhaps?), he offers him peculiar advice over a special phone line. I couldn’t decide if he was talking in code in case of surveillance by competitors (or in today’s environment, the GCHQ and the NSA) or supremely dumb riddles just to fuck with his underling. Regardless, nothing he says is particularly clever or amusing. Furthermore, he’s never completely understood anyway which completely defeats the purpose of his existence. The ever anxious Grant is given even less to work with as he’s constantly made to be stricter than he actually is. Is it really so horrible to tell your obnoxious clients to honour breezy professional commitments on time?
Alan Cumming plays a pretentious TV documentarian who foolishly believes there’s more to The Spice Girls than their brain-dead superficiality, so he’s allowed (along with a boom guy and a cameraman) to cover their lives behind the scenes. Judging by what his crew captures, I’m amazed he didn’t cancel the project after the first day. These ladies are extremely dull.
Meanwhile, a weird tabloid editor sick of all their positive press coverage (who wasn’t back in the day?) is convinced there’s more money to be made in their inevitable downfall (not really). So, he hires a bald, bespectacled freelance paparazzo to catch them at their worst without being detected. As a result, a purposefully misunderstood remark about the Pope, collective nerves about their upcoming sold out Royal Albert Hall gig and an incident involving two young contest winners (the closest the tabloid comes to doing an actual news story on them) are covered just as breathlessly as their remarkable commercial successes.
In the end, no one cares. The group’s stature is unaffected by all this moronic overcoverage. In sharper hands, this whole concept could’ve led to some insightful digs at overly nosy “news” organizations who probably wouldn’t appreciate having the same hyperfocus put on them for similiar trivial endeavours they find so utterly fascinating when undertaken by celebrities, and on the group themselves for constantly courting all this undeserved media attention in the first place. But Spice World prefers to be lazy so this opportunity for potential comic riches is sadly ignored.
At the same time, Grant entertains several movie pitches from two hapless writers (Norm Wendt and Mark McKinney) desperately hoping to cash in on The Spice Girls’ fleeting fame. Sadly, their ideas are no better than Spice World itself. Curiously, their last extended pitch in the third act somehow happens to the singers as they’re talking about it. Let’s just say that if I was Graham Yost, I wouldn’t be flattered by the homage.
Their irritatingly familiar hits notwithstanding (just because you’ve heard them a million times doesn’t mean they’re any good, although I will concede that the hook for one early track is catchy), Spice World is probably better known for its numerous celebrity cameos than anything else. Bob Geldof gets an unfortunate instant Mel B. makeover at a social function, Elton John gets a lot of kisses (but not a single line of dialogue) during a brief encounter with the group (another blown moment for a quick comic pay-off), and Elvis Costello pops up as a bartender in the only moment that made me laugh.
I don’t know if it speaks well for all their talk of “Girl Power” that their only friend in the movie is an abandoned pregnant woman who they barely see. Or that they only have one female working for them. Or that the idea of flashing one’s boobs to wake a hospitalized boy out of his coma is seriously contemplated. Or that potential male suitors should be ordered like delivered pizzas. What I do know is this is a terrible movie that cemented their empty legacy as overgrown teenagers completely disinterested in actual feminist issues.
Spice World is the worst kind of ego trip, one devoid of a strong satirical pulse and a sense of fun. In this universe, The Spice Girls can do no wrong other than aggravate their temperamental road manager like convincing Meat Loaf to pull over so they can pee in the woods. (Don’t ask.) So full of themselves are the singers that when they encounter a small group of aliens (during that same pit stop) who have just landed in the UK, they discover these four odd individuals are overly excited superfans who regret not getting those Albert Hall tickets in advance. Yes, The Spice Girls are so arrogant in this scenario they attract supporters beyond planet Earth.
If only reality were so kind. Just a few months after this pitiful excuse of a movie’s release, Geri Halliwell left the group. And by the time they released a new album in 2000, the dream was over.
Too bad it ever came true in the first place.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 23, 2013